MP Says UK Opening Israel-Gaza Refugee Programme Would Show West Had "Failed"
Conservative chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee Alicia Kearns has said that a new Israel-Palestine refugee programme would show the West had "failed" in preventing people being displaced by conflict in the region.
Kearns, the Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton, told PoliticsHome that the UK had historic duties and responsibilities to Israel and Palestine, but that she did not want to see the forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza and instead humanitarian aid should be prioritised.
More than 1,400 Israelis were killed by Hamas on October 7, according to the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Almost 2,400 Palestinians have since been killed in retaliatory airstrikes by Israel, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
Last Friday, Israel’s military leaders ordered Gaza’s 1.1million population to move southward in anticipation of a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, leading to questions over whether refugee routes to countries such as the UK should be opened.
But Kearns argued that it was still too early to consider such measures, and instead the focus should be on people being able to remain safely in the region. She believed most Palestinians want to live in “peace” and want a two-state solution.
“The key thing is that humanitarian aid can get in, that's the priority, and making sure that we can potentially end the suffering of civilians and make sure the hospitals are functioning effectively,” she said.
“The reason we took refugees from Ukraine is because we had failed to prevent [an] illegal invasion,” she said.
“The reason we took refugees from Afghanistan is that there was a direct responsibility of the UK over those who had supported us and worked with us in Afghanistan.
“If we are getting to the point where we are having to create a massive refugee programme, then we have failed even more than the situation we're currently seeing on the ground."
Kearns said she believed it was still valuable for Government to begin conversations about what a UK refugee programme for Palestinians could look like as part of planning for “the worst possible scenario”.
A Downing Street spokesperson has said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hoped regional leaders could find a way that could bring about lasting peace for Israeli and Palestinian citizens.
Sunak has also announced £10 million in humanitarian aid funding for civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The commitment was made in response to the worsening situation in Gaza, where there has been a shortage in food and water as a result of an escalated blockade by Israel. The United Nations estimates there are at least one million displaced Palestinians across the Gaza Strip.
Kearns told PoliticsHome she was confident a significant number of aid agencies in Gaza could get humanitarian assistance to people who most need it.
“[The Foreign secretary] James Cleverly was very clear yesterday that there are very clear mechanisms have been put in place to make sure the aid gets to the right people," she said.
“It will be aid agencies will very easily be able to allocate aid to those most in need.
“We're not talking about masses of aid getting in here. We're talking about 20 trucks, which is what’s currently been agreed, and we’re looking at food, medicine and water.”
Kearns said she believed it was “highly likely” the UK would see the terror threat increase over "the next few days” as a result of rising tensions over the conflict in the Middle East.
“So often when there is a crisis around the world and when there is bloodshed. You see that happen,” she said.
Director General of MI5 Ken McCallum has said the intelligence agency is “focused with particular intensity” of terrorism threat growing with particular intensity and that it is “often been the case” that events in the Middle East can echo in Europe and the UK.
“My teams are absolutely alert to the possibility that events in the Middle East cause some people in the United Kingdom to attempt some form of attack of whatever sort,” he told Sky News.
The decision to escalate the terror threat in the UK sits with JTAG, which is the Joint Terror Analysis Centre.
Kearns also drew a major distinction between support for Hamas and the demonstrations which were held for Palestine last weekend.
“A Palestinian flag does not mean support for Hamas. A Palestinian flag may mean that people are concerned about the current humanitarian crisis,” she said.
“It may mean that they are protesting about the historic injustice against the people of Palestine.
“There is a big difference between a Palestinian flag and the appalling, antisemitic hate crime driven, Hamas supporting images of, for example, people putting paragliders on their clothes or shouting appalling obscenities or threatening Israelis.
“There has been a clear rise in antisemitism in the country. There has also been a clear rise in Islamophobia.”
US President Joe Biden flew over to Israel earlier this week to offer the country his support, and urged its political leaders not to “repeat mistakes” made by the US in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack. The Times reported Biden gave Benjamin Netenyahu, Israel’s President, private backing to launch a ground offensive on Gaza.
Kearns told PoliticsHome there was a distinction between Israel “going into Gaza” and “how you go into Gaza”.
“There is a big difference between going into Gaza in the first place, and then how you go into Gaza,” she said.
“A counterterrorism operation is something that is precise, specific and targeted against terrorists. A war has mass casualties.
“But it matters because although there's a tactical imperative to defeat Hamas in the immediate, because they are an existential threat to Israel. But how Israel defeats Hamas will shape their security and their future in the region.
“It's a vital distinction that if you're looking at the long-term security, prosperity of Israel, then how this is done matters.”
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